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Suffolk County to consider ban on intentional release of balloons

Suffolk County is mulling a ban on the

Suffolk County is mulling a ban on the release of helium-filled balloons, such as these seen in Islip in 2016. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

Suffolk County legislators are considering banning the release of balloons to protect the environment and prevent pollution.

The legislature is set to host a public hearing Tuesday on the proposal, which would prohibit the intentional release of any balloon that is lighter than air, such as helium-filled ones.

Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she proposed the measure because “balloons can be a tragic form of litter for our sea life,” citing that creatures can get tangled in balloon materials or ingest them without being able to break them down.

“It’s something we have to do to be good environmental stewards,” Anker said of the proposed ban.

The bill would amend current county law, passed in 2002, that limits releases to 25 balloons in one day.

East Hampton Town and Long Beach already ban the release of balloons to reduce the amount of latex, Mylar and plastic polluting the environment.

Hundreds of balloons wind up along Long Island’s coastline, according to the environmental nonprofit Surfrider Foundation. Volunteers have collected nearly 1,500 balloons during recent beach cleanups on Long Island, said John Weber, Surfrider’s mid-Atlantic regional manager. He said 1,289 of those were collected east of Moriches Inlet in the past two years alone.

“What goes up must come down, and they do come down — as litter,” Weber said of balloons.

The law would be enforced by the county Department of Health Services, with a $500 fine for the first violation, $750 for the second and $1,000 for following violations.

But don’t worry, parents. A child accidentally letting go of a balloon would be exempt, as would weather balloons, hot air balloons, balloons released indoors and balloons used for scientific experiments.

“The main point of this legislation is awareness,” Anker said, adding the law would prevent balloon releases at celebratory events like graduations and weddings.

The proposal follows other legislative efforts to cut down on plastic pollution, such as bans on plastic straws and fees for plastic bag use.

The hearing will be held at 2 p.m. in the Hauppauge legislature building’s auditorium. Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory said a vote is expected Tuesday.

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